The Perfect Reactions to Scripture

Posted on April 10, 2020

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By David Ettinger

Proper Conviction
It had been a long time since the Israelites who returned from Babylonian/Persian exile had heard the Word of God. The leaders of the people – Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the scribe/priest – determined this needed to happen.

Therefore, “the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate” (Nehemiah 8:1). Ezra then brought out “the Book of the Law of Moses” and “read it aloud from daybreak till noon” (v. 3). Ezra was assisted by several Levites (v. 7) who explained the text, “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (v. 9).

Perhaps it was because it had dawned on them just how short of God’s holiness they had fallen that “all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” (v. 9). This was not the reaction the leaders were expecting, and they addressed it, but I believe it was nonetheless the correct one at that moment, and one from which believers should learn.

The Israelites were not so arrogant as to hear the Word of God and not relate it to themselves. Rather, their hearts were pliant as they accepted God’s chastisement. No, God was not openly chastising them, rather, His solemn Word penetrated their hearts, minds, spirits, and emotions, and they were convicted of their sin.

How About Us?
What about today? How pliant are our hearts when we read God’s Word? When you’re not walking with the Lord as you should, are you at least sensitive enough to His Word to recognize when a certain verse or passage relates to you? For instance, when you read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5), and know you have not been doing so, does it eat at you?

What about Colossians 3:5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry”? When you know you have not been living to please God, do you feel convicted? Is your heart soft enough that such Scripture will move you to tears?

There are times when I am moved to tears and repent, and others when I am not. This should never be; believers should always be moved and convicted by God’s Word when we know we have fallen short of it – just as the returned exiles of Israel were!

A Time to Celebrate
 As commendable as the Israelites’ reaction was, at that particular time, it was not the most appropriate one: “This day is holy to the Lord your God,” the leaders told them. “Do not mourn or weep” (v. 9).

The people where then instructed to: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).

For the Israelites, this was to be a time of celebration because they had been reconciled to God. The reading of the Word was intended to reacquaint them with their Creator. It was to be a day when God instructed His people as to His requirements, and they were to receive His tender instruction with love and good will. It was a time of rich fellowship between God and His people, and they were to rejoice in the communion they shared.  

The Israelites reacted favorably as they “went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (v. 12).

So, too, should believers in the Lord Jesus respond to God’s Word when they are experiencing warm fellowship with Him. When our hearts our right with God, we should always end our Bible-reading time “with great joy,” knowing that we have intimately communicated with God, and that He has blessed our reading with comprehension and conviction.

One Or the Other
Nehemiah 8:1-12 shows us two reactions to God’s word: one of mourning; one of rejoicing. May we, like the Israelites on that day, never fail to be moved by God’s Word, whether in humility because of sin, or in joy because He has allowed us to comprehend His precious and eternal truths!